D&D General Run Away!

Reynard

Legend
In my experience, the PCs fleeing combat is one of the rarest events in a D&D campaign. It often seems like they would rather fight to the death and suffer a TPK than turn tail and escape. This happens even when escape is relatively certain, and even when the fight is largely unnecessary.

It happened most recently in my new campaign. (Note, the PCs are starting at 3rd level, not 1st.) The first room in the dungeon contained 2 chuuls -- a deadly encounter for the 5 PCs -- and an easy way out that the chuuls could not follow. Despite bad luck -- not hitting and taking hits themselves -- the PCs absolutely would not take the way out. They focused fire and dropped one of the chulls, so I gave them a free round while the other devoured the innards of its mate. Even then they did not take the opportunity to leave. Injured and already almost out of their big guns, they decided to face the thing down, even though they have not hit it yet (so it is fresh).

Could be the shortest campaign ever, I guess.

Anyway -- what is your view on PCs fleeing fights? Do you see it happen relatively regularly? Do you design encounters to make it necessary? What is the GM's role, if any, in the party deciding to stand or flee?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Seems as though the GM's role when it comes to the PCs running away--which is not the same thing as avoiding a fight--is to make sure it's possible (figure out how you'll run it, keeping in mind that turn-based initiative doesn't always work well with this) and to make sure the players know it's possible. You might also have to tell them point blank, "You can't win this, you should run away." You might also have to figure out how to make it palatable, which in this particular instance might be difficult, since they haven't had any fights they've won, yet.
 

Oofta

Legend
People hate running. So much so that I've given up on scenarios where they should unless I can make it extremely obvious they don't even have a theoretical chance. Looking up they see hundreds of zombies coming at them, or a few dozen giants. Not just overwhelming odds, but cataclysmically overwhelming odds.

But I also don't remember the last time I did this. It's far more likely that they'll know there's a small army over the next hill and that they shouldn't engage. In part this is because it can be difficult to escape (even if you think the escape route is obvious). In part it's also the built in expectation, because they defeat the enemy the vast majority of times they assume they can win this encounter as well.

While it's incredibly rare I have had campaigns end in TPK it's not the end of the world, especially if the party is low level. You can even have a new party pick up the campaign where it left off, with the new PCs possibly hearing about the untimely demise of their predecessors. :)
 

Reynard

Legend
While it's incredibly rare I have had campaigns end in TPK it's not the end of the world, especially if the party is low level. You can even have a new party pick up the campaign where it left off, with the new PCs possibly hearing about the untimely demise of their predecessors. :)
If it happens in this game it is no big deal, because according to the module backgrounds, the party itself is going in after 4 other groups that have already not returned from the site.
 

MarkB

Legend
In a lot of cases a player will make their character with an inherent assumption that they are the indomitable, unflappable hero of the story. And while they won't want that character to die, they don't fundamentally object to it because it still fits the narrative for who they are.

But to have that character flee in the face of danger, or even imminent demise - that goes directly against their self-identity. That's why players will rarely take the way out even if it's offered.

One time I remember being in an encounter that was clearly unwinnable, and as players we all agreed that we needed to get out. There followed an entire round of combat where nobody got out because we each in turn attempted to stay back and cover everyone else's retreat.
 



aco175

Legend
I tend to agree with @UngainlyTitan in that the rules do not actively support running away. The way initiative works has hobbled groups I played in/DMd. Once the players realize they should run away it is already a bad situation.

The fighter tends to block the exit so the other can run, but then he is stuck, so the rogue hangs back to help, causing the monster to have its turn, then the fighter can go, but does not want to leave the rogue. The mage comes back to not leave everyone and the fighter cannot flee still since the rest of the party is still there. Then the monster can go again....

Likely be better in a system where the whole party had a turn, then the monsters over individual.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I tend to agree with @UngainlyTitan in that the rules do not actively support running away. The way initiative works has hobbled groups I played in/DMd. Once the players realize they should run away it is already a bad situation.

The fighter tends to block the exit so the other can run, but then he is stuck, so the rogue hangs back to help, causing the monster to have its turn, then the fighter can go, but does not want to leave the rogue. The mage comes back to not leave everyone and the fighter cannot flee still since the rest of the party is still there. Then the monster can go again....

Likely be better in a system where the whole party had a turn, then the monsters over individual.
Or if one side decides to run you drop out of initiatives. In 5e, the phrasing is "until the fighting stops" and "one side decides to run away" seems to qualify.
 


aco175

Legend
Seems like a cop-out to just drop things when the players all yell, "Run away".
"You all manage to flee to safety and the monster just slithers back to its lair." I guess the DM could narrate some of the fleeing or have the players roleplay some of the escape.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I told players when begining my GREYHAWK campaign that not all combat encounters they face needed to be fought to the death, that some would be easy, other hard and some even tougher than they can handle and therefore depending on the circumstances parlying, surrendering, running away,could all be options for them or their enemies to opt for.

So far they ran away once, when a band of norkers arrived where the wyvern they had just defeated landed, having them attracted by the huge kill on their territory. Outnumbered, and having just finished a hard encounter, as they decided to turn heels back and flee.
 


My fleeing mechanic.

One play intiates by taking the disengage action and moving away from the combat. They then scream for everyone to flee.

The rest of the party makes a DC 15 ability check of their choice, representing how they are trying to do something tricky, clever, or athletic to get away. More then half the party needs to succeed but, no matter what, the party gets away. Why? The check determines how much time you buy for yourself.

If over half the party succeeds, you buy an hour of time before the enemy finds you. If over half the party fails, you buy only 1d10 minutes instead. Has made for some fun games and allowed me to do more crazy combats.
 

Reynard

Legend
Seems like a cop-out to just drop things when the players all yell, "Run away".
"You all manage to flee to safety and the monster just slithers back to its lair." I guess the DM could narrate some of the fleeing or have the players roleplay some of the escape.
Depends on the monster. If the PCs invaded a creature's territory and it was attacking to drive them off -- mission accomplished. If the monsters are intelligent and don't want to die themselves, they too might well let the PCs escape. Some other type would certainly try and hunt them down (but you can do that with other mechanics, not staying in initiative).
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I've seen this phenomena in my D&D games too. I think it must just be part of the way certain assumptions are built into the game... Running away doesn't feel like a "victory" compared to other resolutions to the conflict. Even sneaking by an enemy feels more satisfying than fleeing.

One thing I've done before is designate an area of the map for retreat. If all the characters end their turn in the retreat zone, then they successfully flee. This has helped in adventures with ticking clocks or difficult odds. It also helps plant "retreat" as a viable combat option in the minds of the players, because there's a physical zone they can place their miniature in.

It's funny, I started a campaign with an adventure in which the characters were trying to rescue an old tortle from a monster called the Wolf King and his Nachthund- archers and witches who could turn into wolves. I created a big map with different forest clearings they'd have to navigate. The characters were Level 3, and I didn't want the enemies to actually be that big of a deal. The "Wolf King" was a reflavored CR 5 demon with some illusion magic, but I described him as this massive wolf with a glowing crown of fire. The Nachthund were all CR 1/4 Drow or other low-CR enemies who, as a bonus action, could turn into CR 1/4 wolves.

But something about the description of this giant, talking wolf (who literally only cast illusion spells during the combat) and the archers and witches turning into wolves terrified the players, and they spent the whole adventure fleeing from clearing to clearing with the old tortle in tow! It made for a super memorable and fun adventure, and the Wolf King became an ongoing NPC in the campaign.
 



Reynard

Legend
But something about the description of this giant, talking wolf (who literally only cast illusion spells during the combat) and the archers and witches turning into wolves terrified the players, and they spent the whole adventure fleeing from clearing to clearing with the old tortle in tow! It made for a super memorable and fun adventure, and the Wolf King became an ongoing NPC in the campaign.
I LOVE it when that happens. So satisfying as a GM.
 

Agametorememberbooks

Explorer
Publisher
One thing I’ll do, so as to not entirely eliminate the initiative mechanic, is that if my players have initiatives that are stacked in a row, I’ll let them trade out who goes in what order. So let’s say my bard has a 16, the rogue a 15, and the fighter a 10 on their initiatives. Let’s also say that there are no monsters between 16 and 10. I’ll let the players swap out who goes in what order sorta like signaling one another with head nods, gestures, etc.

Since they’re all in a row, they tend to think more like a coordinated team, and when it comes to a deadly/threatening combat, they’re more comfortable with making a tactical retreat b/c they‘re all doing it at the same time.

I’ve also found it makes them far more effective in combat, and I’ve been able to throttle up the CR of my encounters a little more…which is more fun for me.
 

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